RE: Definition of Tech Writer, was STC is broken

Subject: RE: Definition of Tech Writer, was STC is broken
From: "Jason A. Czekalski" <topsidefarm -at- mva -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 03 May 2008 08:24:49 -0400

I have to respectfully but firmly disagree with much of Lauren's
statement and strongly agree with Mr. West.

"Lauren" <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net> wrote:

> For example, business writing includes feasibility study reports, business
> plans, proposals, marketing documentation, internal memos (official
> communication), policies, and a host of other documents that require a focus
> and style that is different from what is required for technical writing.

Every TW I know does one or more of those documents as a ROUTINE part of
their TW job. Some, like feasibility study reports, business plans, and
proposals are pure TW documents.

> Business writing generally tries to entice the reader into accepting the
> subject matter of the document or it compels the reader to abide by the
> subject matter, such as rules, in the document.

And this is different from TW in what way????

> Technical writing, on the other hand, is generally written for an audience
> that is already somewhat receptive to the subject matter, like an end user
> who wants to know how to use a product or a system administrator who needs
> to know the requirements of an application.

And many members of these groups are @#$%^& know-it-alls who avoid using
the manual. If your documents don't "entice" them, the docs won't be

>Technical writers may need to
> use a little marketing in documentation, but marketing is not usually
> required.

Incorrect! See last statement!

>Technical writing has a focus on the details of the subject
> matter and the usability of the document, whereas, business writing is
> focused on the mind of the reader and on getting buy-in for the subject
> matter.

Once again, arguing non-existent differences. A good business writer
also has to focus on "the details of the subject matter and the
usability of the document" while a good TW also has to focus on "the
mind of the reader and on getting buy-in for the subject matter." Once
again, same difference.

> The risks of an unsuccessful technical document are lower than the risks of
> an unsuccessful business document, although the detail of technical
> documents is greater than that of business documents. Risks are lower for
> technical writing because the failure of the document means that the
> audience will not understand the product.

WHOA!!! I don't know what your experience with TW has been, but where I
work, people die if my document is wrong. I have never seen anyone
seriously injured or killed because of errors in business plans,
proposals, or marketing documentation. However, I have seen these when
manuals have been wrong. Given that feasability studies, or internal
memos can also get into the engineering and safety issues usually
covered in a manual, these risks can be associated with them as well.
The risks associated with incorrect business docs pale in comparison to
those associated with incorrect tech docs.

> Although failure of each class of document has financial risks, the risks
> from a failed business document are generally greater than the risks of a
> failed technical document.

More than a few manufacturers are no longer in business because of
product liability claims based on improper documentation. A failed
business plan can't cause any more damage than that.

> I think that the two writing classes are different enough to be mutually
> exclusive. Business writing is high risk, low detail, and
> marketing-focused. Technical writing is low risk, high detail, and
> usability-focused.
> Lauren

Once again, you are creating false dichotomies based on incorrect
assumptions. Whether we call it tech writing, medical writing, science
writing, business writing, grant writing, etc., etc., etc., it is all
the same. These are all just sub-fields of technical communication. It
is time to get off this crap about how differenet and mutually exclusive
the different sub-fields are. There is no basis whatsoever for such an
ascertion unless someone uses a lot of false assumptions. If you can
write for one, you can quickly shift gears and learn to write for any of
the others (within reason).

I will, however, add one caveat here (the "within reason"). The biggest
divider is going to be knowledge of the underlying subject matter. If
you don't know anything about the science or technology behind your
subject, then you are going to have difficulty with writing anything
about it. It doesn't matter how good you are at marketing writing,
you're going to have a tough time in my world if you don't know heavy
manufacturing. I, however, can walk into any factory in the world where
English is spoken and quickly get to work writing ANY document needed by
the company. On the flip side, however, I would get slaughtered if I
tried anything beyond the most basic documentation in something like

Again, the writing types are not mutually exclusive. It is the knowledge
of the specific subject matter that makes the difference.

Jason A. Czekalski

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